Plan to bar Americans, legal immigrants from returning to US if COVID-19 suspected spurs anxiety

National News

A police officer directs traffic heading to the Paso del Norte bridge to cross over to El Paso, Texas, from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019. After a young Texan went on a shooting rampage that appeared to target Hispanics at a Walmart in El Paso, killing 22 people, including eight Mexican citizens, Mexicans have continued to pack the international bridges going to jobs, stores and schools like always. (AP Photo/Christian Chavez)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Commercial activity and civil rights could suffer if President Trump bars American citizens and legal residents from entering the country when exposure to COVID-19 is suspected, border influencers say.

Trump is considering such a measure to prevent people from bringing the virus from abroad, The New York Times reported this week, citing access to a draft of the proposed regulation.

“Any prohibition on the introduction of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents from abroad would apply only in the rarest of circumstances when required in the interest of public health,” the draft regulation states, according to the Times.

But prospect immediately raised anxiety in border industry, political and advocacy circles.

“We have a lot of Americans who live in Juarez (Mexico) because of work or family and travel back and forth a lot. If this is implemented, even for a while, it’s going to cause a lot of anxiety and chaos,” said Jerry Pacheco, president and CEO of the Border Industrial Association.

A key concern is whether federal immigration officers at U.S. ports of entry will be provided with and trained to administer COVID-19 tests at land, sea and airports, or whether anyone with a cold will be denied entry.

“Of course they will not be trained. This is clearly a political move to say he is doing something about COVID at the expense of the rights of border residents,” said Carlos Marentes, executive director of El Paso’s Border Agricultural Workers Center. “It’s in line with his discourse to his dwindling political base that our problems come from China or from Mexico.”

Marentes said border immigration agents already have inordinate discretion when it comes to people seeking to enter the United States, and that something as vague as telling them to spot someone who may have the coronavirus will lead to civil rights abuses.

“You cannot deny an American the right to return to his country, you cannot strip a legal permanent resident from his rights without due legal process. This would be a violation of their rights,” he said, adding there would be lawsuits if the regulation is implemented.

On the Mexican side, Chihuahua Gov. Javier Corral said on Tuesday that he has not been notified of any new border travel restrictions. Since March, the U.S. has limited non-essential travel to Mexico, which in practice has meant that only U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents can cross.

“I don’t think that’s feasible because of the necessary interaction of commerce and industry on the U.S.-Mexico border. The interaction of people engaged in business on the border is fundamental (to both economies),” Corral said.

Chihuahua, which borders Texas and New Mexico, has hundreds of U.S.-run assembly plants where many of the managers are Americans. In addition, thousands of truckers must cross the border every day to deliver to the United States parts and goods manufactured at those facilities.

Pacheco of the Border Industrial Association also noted that people can be infected with COVID-19 and be asymptomatic.

The plan “is uncertain from a legal and logistics point. Who is going to check to know that someone is COVID-positive? The U.S. would literally have to do a test on everyone coming back to figure out who cannot come back across the border,” he said.

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